Friday, January 29, 2010


When I was a kid, one of the most anxiety-producing situations for me was when I felt that I didn't know what was happening. (Still true, in fact...) I needed things to be explained, laid out, with some idea of what to expect. One bright-edged sample memory dates from a community Easter-egg hunt when I was maybe about Rose's age. Mom dropped me off, a nice organizer lady told me to go stand on the far side of a big gym full of people I didn't know, I had no idea if I was standing in the right place, and I didn't know what was going to happen next. The memory still makes my stomach clench.

Rose likes explanations too.

We experienced this with her earlier in the week as we began to work our way through a sad event at our house. When JoyDad came downstairs to feed the bunnies first thing on Wednesday morning, he found that there was only one bunny to be fed. The senior of our two bunnies, Phoebert, had died unexpectedly in the night, at the ripe old age of 11.

Phoebert was Rose's favorite, though she loves Ellie too. We had to quickly plan how to tell her, how to arrange a bunny-body to let her see (opting for a cardboard box lined with a towel), how to comfort her. She has been doing really well, all things considered. I think this is partly due to the fact that we had to work through a much more serious decline and loss in 2005, when Rose was three and my mother died of kidney cancer.

However, JoyDad and I did have to decide what to do with a bunny body. The ground is frozen hard this time of year, so burial was not an option. We didn't much like the thought of putting him in the deep-freeze till spring. So... um... we bagged his remains in multiple layers and put the bag into the trash bin, which is its own kind of deep-freeze this time of year.

We were really hoping not to have to tell Rose, that she would let us get away with saying that it's mommy's job to take care of and you don't have to worry about it. Yeah, right. Guess what was the first thing she asked when I picked her up from school?

"Is Phoebert still in the house?"

I tried one feeble "you don't really want to know" attempt, and then told the truth. She seemed pretty philosophical about that part of it, though she did cry herself to sleep that first night. She's been thinking about Phoebert and Ellie a lot, but no more tears since.

So. That leaves someone else in the house who is in a very different place in terms of explanations.

What in the world do we do for, and with, Joy?

For the most part, we have had to keep her away from the bunny enclosure. The poops look like raisins (acck), she stims on the hay and spreads it everywhere, she rattles the cage. The bunnies were just not very much a part of her life.

We don't even know if it makes a difference to her that there's only one bunny she's being kept away from now, and not two.

Which totally begs the question of talking about death. Our verbal communications with Joy are generally so stripped down, in accordance with the Hanen precepts of speaking with a child using language that is not TOO far above the level you want them to aim at producing. We usually speak to her extremely concretely, about objects in the immediate present and actions in the immediate present or very near future.

Bunny is gone. Bunny is dead. Bunny is not coming back. This is different than when a therapist doesn't show up for an expected session, or when we have a personnel change, or when a friend moves away.... oh dear, that's a lot of words.

Good grief, it's hard enough to explain to a neurotypical kid!

On the one hand, we're lucky in a way that Joy rolls with the punches of change, at least seems to do so, much more than a lot of kids on the spectrum. She doesn't explode at changes in routine, though if we change too much at once she does get frayed around the edges (like any kid).

But it makes it hard to know how much she even notices. And how much explaining we need to be doing, which may be more than we are doing, just because we don't know how much explanation is helpful.

This is not easy. I don't like not knowing if I'm standing in the right place, not knowing what's going to happen next.

I do know that we'll miss our bunny.



DolphinHugger said...

Awwwwww! So sorry for your family's loss. Best of luck with your explanations to everybody, including yourself and JoyDad.

RIP, Phoebert. I was taught that animals don't have a soul but I still like to believe somewhere Phoebert is hopping through a huge green field with abundant bunny treats and toys, and you'll all see each other again someday.

Anonymous said...

I haven't been an astute friend ~ didn't pick-up on how this affects you, JM. You have to deal with a lot of unknowns with Joy and it looks like Phoebert's passing has brought 'unknown' into painful focus.

I'm betting the team that surrounds Joy with learned love can reassure you that what you and JM have done is just correct for Joy. Barbara

Niksmom said...

RIP Phoebert. Sorry for the loss and for the inevitable issues it brings up. Part of the circle of life, eh?

Chelli said...

So sorry to hear of Phoebert's passing. Hoping that you can find the right words for Joy.

I dealt with a situation last month when we lost our dog and our cockatiel. My son, Noah, saw our dog pass and found our cockatiel in his cage after he passed. He is only 3 and even after all the explanations, he still asks, "what happened to Squeakie" or "where's Baylee". I think he is trying to process it in his own way.

I'm sure that you and JoyDad will find the right things to say.

jess said...

aw, rest in peace little bunny.

we all process these things in our own way. you know BOTH of your girls so well. your instincts will guide you well.

Kelly said...

Sorry for the loss of your bunny.
My kids have had to deal with death a lot. They each process it so completely different. I always feel inadequate, but Jess is right, you know your girls and your instincts will guide you.

One Mom said...

So sorry to hear about the loss of your bunny. I'm sure you and JoyDad will find the right words to help Joy understand.